Osteria Renata review

Osteria Renata is Prahran's posh pasta-led newcomer.
Osteria Renata is Prahran's posh pasta-led newcomer. Photo: Jason South

436-438 High St Prahran, VIC 3181

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Opening hours Tue-Sat noon-11pm
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Events, Gluten-free options, Groups, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Pre-post-theatre, Private dining, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 03 9112 8962

The lowdown on Osteria Renata? Loved it. A slick package of great Italian food, wine and service, in a space so sexy it ought to be on Tinder.

It also left me pondering the shifting definition of osteria. As a clipboard-carrying, tyre-kicking pedant who measures everything until all joy has evaporated, here's my thesis: if you were to kidnap an Italian nonno from a Piedmont hill town and deposit him at Osteria Renata, he would not recognise it as the humble, inexpensive little sibling to the trattoria and ristorante. Non una possibilità.

Si, the osteria name creates an impression of authenticity. But knowing Renata as the newie from the crew behind South Melbourne's excellent Park Street Pasta & Wine, that was already a given. It's posher than South Melbourne (which, by the way, is in the process of being sold to a long-term employee).

Gnocchi fritti 'cacio e pepe' with jamon Iberico.
Gnocchi fritti 'cacio e pepe' with jamon Iberico.  Photo: Jason South

Park Street co-owner Alex Ghaddab spied the Prahran real estate, formerly The Seasonal Kitchen cafe, on his daily commute.

After a comprehensive Projects of Imagination zhoosh, it's been reborn as a neighbourhood restaurant for the sort of diners who can use the occasion to reminisce about their last trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Behind the bold olive facade lie whitewashed walls and timber floors, buttery green banquettes, lighting that's a lesson in flattery. It's chic and minimalist; midcentury with a twist.

Garfish with pipis and fregola.
Garfish with pipis and fregola. Photo: Mark Lee

A clutch of informal tables near the bar suggests the possibility of prioritising drinking above eating, while out back there's a "prosecco garden" biding its time until Melbourne re-emerges into the sun.

The kitchen-slash-"pasta lab" sees erstwhile Park St head chef and Renata co-owner Gus Cadden flex his carb-lovin' muscles and a whole lot else besides. 

Pasta is less of a focus here – Renata's menu offers four daily pasta dishes compared to eight at South Melbourne – but going by the quadratti ($34), it's imperative to go there.

Quadratti pasta with mushroom, porcini, parmigiano fonduta and caramelised leek.
Quadratti pasta with mushroom, porcini, parmigiano fonduta and caramelised leek. Photo: Jason South

On first encounter these intricately pleated, mushroom-filled pouches of rich northern-style egg pasta are a lesson in the power of simplicity.

But there are tricks at play: the porcini powder dusting the top, the lactic tang of the mascarpone lifting the porcini and field mushroom filling, the parmesan emulsified, fondue-like, into the sauce. A truffle supplement – $10 for a three-gram shave, get it while the season lasts – makes excellent sense.

But I'm getting ahead of a 10-strong antipasti list, from cracking Sydney rock oysters with amaro mignonette ($5 each) to scamorza croquettas ($20) writing their name in the global annals of fried cheese with the help of a minty salsa verde.

Tuna tartare with beurre bosc pear and green olive.
Tuna tartare with beurre bosc pear and green olive. Photo: Thom Mitchell

A skewer of octopus tentacle ($22), chargrilled but juicy, comes with a loosey-goosey puddle of fiery 'nduja sauce that places it firmly in special mention territory.

It's inevitable that cacio e pepe will turn up. Rome's viral flavour duo of pecorino romano and black pepper takes a turn around the room with gnocchi fritti – those Emilia-Romagnan ribbons of fried dough – served alongside glistening slivers of 36-month-aged jamon Iberico ($28).

The only thing that could make the whole combo better is eating it in Bologna, but it's a pretty excellent thing to enjoy while poking around the Italian-focused wine list, from a minerally Sardinian vermentino to local Italian-hearted producers on tap, such as the Chalmers falanghina.

Barbecued Fremantle octopus spiedini with 'nduja Calabrese.
Barbecued Fremantle octopus spiedini with 'nduja Calabrese. Photo: Jason South

You might want to head to the premium Coravin-enabled wine selection to go with the uptown version of veal cotoletta ($55). A 350-gram hunk served on the bone, it's ruggedly crusted and sprinkled with fried capers and a blizzard of pecorino. It's a great chop but requires sides: bay leaf-salted fat fries and mayo ($14) or a citrusy bitter leaf salad ($16).

Renata is humming along far better than it should in the first month of its life. The Geiger counter is jumping off the charts with a crowd packing peak excitement about a glam new hangout.

Led by Ghaddab on the floor, the staff are miraculously keeping pace, only dropping minor stitches (no oyster forks, clutch the pearls; don't worry, I'll live).

Desserts? There are just two ($16), the obligatory chocolate tart number and a butternut squash semifreddo lapped by a moat of caramel sauce. More freddo than semi, the texture is slightly grainy, the white chocolate tuille on top Christmas biscuity. It's more restaurant than osteria, to its detriment.

But what's in a name? A pasta lab is a kitchen with a big viewing window. A prosecco garden is a courtyard with dining tables. An osteria can nudge into special occasion territory. Who am I to judge? The romantic nomenclature is a comforting fairytale. It just comes at a price.

The low-down

Vibe Buzzing, perfumed peacocking

Go-to dish Mushroom quadratti, $34

Pro tip If you've got a hankering for a luxe southern rock lobster spaghetti, this is your place. Two days' notice required.

https://www.osteriarenata.com.au/